Just days after 12 workers were retrenched from Trinidad Cement Ltd, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) is accusing the company of replacing permanent workers with contract workers. During a press conference at TCL’s car park in Claxton Bay yesterday, OWTU’s chief labour relations officer Lindon Mendoza accused the company of “union-busting” and callousness towards T&T laws. “I mean that Trinidad Cement Ltd although it is a local company it has foreign management and foreign ownership in control of the assets and operation of TCL. What they are doing is that they are disrespecting the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and they are disrespecting the workers and by extension the union, OWTU.”
Noting that the main issue facing workers is retrenchment, he said between 2018 to present 56 permanent workers have been retrenched. Mendoza said there were currently 200 plus permanent workers, but the workforce inclusive of contractors, temporary and casual, is about 400. Explaining that retrenchment is an exercise that a company could engage in if there is surplus-labour, he said TCL cannot put forward that reason as the company has several vacancies. “Notwithstanding this clear and obvious fact, the company has still engaged in an exercise of retrenchment which the union can only term as union-busting where the company is on a campaign to terminate permanent workers in favour of hiring contractors and contract workers within the organisation. And we are saying this morning that that is wrong, it is morally wrong, and it is unlawfully to do so because the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act clearly states that the only reason or the only criteria a company can use to initiate a retrenchment exercise is surplus labour and we are saying that the company does not have surplus labour at this time and therefore they cannot institute a retrenchment exercise.”
Mendoza said information reaching him just before the press conference was that TCL intends to shut down the packing section of the plant, TPL. He said 28 permanent workers and 17 casual workers would be affected.
“And what their intention is, is to contract out the jobs done by this plant to another company and these bags will be brought in from Brazil, the information that I have.”
Concerning the 12 workers, the union was served with a notice on January 6 and has since written to the company requesting a meeting on Friday but so far the company has not responded. He said the letter was also copied to Labour Minister Steven Mc Clashie.
If there is no resolution, he said the union intends to file trade disputes with the minister and “progress those trade disputes to the level of the Industrial Court for resolution.” However, he asked that Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon take careful note of the practices of the company.
Noting the recent issue with Rock Hard Cement over a policy implemented by the ministry, the Union Rep said the intention of any policies or initiatives to local supplies is to encourage growth and development of the organisation locally and by extension, the benefit would be foreign exchange and employment in the local sector.
Retrenched worker Roxanne Holder-Simon who had 25 years of service and worked in the Accounts/Payable Section was grateful to the union for their intervention. Holder-Simon said, “I have five kids, it will put some financial strain on me but I believe in the Lord Jesus and I know that He will provide. Despite this challenge I see a silver lining at the end of it.” Another worker Keron Whiskey who was employed as a welder for the past 11 years is concerned about how he will provide for his family. “This notice came at, I must say, an inappropriate time during this COVID period. It certainly impacted my family life in a very, very, dramatic way. I have a young son, he’s eight-years-old to send to school. I have other commitments and this definitely has a serious impact on my family life and of course moving forward to find employment during a time like now during the COVID period.”
While the company has classed them as surplus-labour, Whiskey said there was no surplus labour in the department he worked, but there were contract workers doing the same jobs as the permanent workers. He is hoping to get justice in the courts. Contacted for a comment, TCL’s Janelle Collins in an email response stated, “At this point, we choose to monitor the situation and we will respond when we deem it appropriate.”